3 Up-&-Comers On What It Means To Really "Make It"

Design by Louisa Cannell.
For many career paths, the road to success can be winding — filled with plenty of bumps and roadblocks that seemingly get in the way of really “making it.” In the world of entertainment, this feeling of being on the cusp of success is practically unavoidable. That’s exactly what the Showtime drama series I’m Dying Up Here addresses. Starring Melissa Leo and Ari Graynor, the show follows a group of ambitious, aspiring comedians struggling to become household names in Hollywood.
Inspired by the show’s second season, the premiere of which is currently available to watch for free online, we partnered with Showtime to find out what it feels like to be a rising talent in the modern-day world of entertainment. Ahead, three up-and-coming female entertainers, Nikki Black, Taylor Simone, and Jeanté Godlock — whose careers span everything from comedy to music — discuss successes, sacrifices, and everything that's encountered along the way.
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Design by Louisa Cannell.
Jeanté Godlock, Actress, Los Angeles

Jeanté is a fairly new face in Hollywood, but that doesn't stop her from being unabashedly optimistic about her future as an actress. She offers a refreshing balance of confidence and modesty, which no doubt helped her earn her recent role (and her first big gig), portraying a gold-medal gymnast in a TV movie. But beyond that, Godlock displays an enormous amount of strength in her ability to push towards her dreams despite unexpected pain and loss she's experienced in her life.

Playing the lead in a TV movie — especially one about a notable figure — is a huge gig. What did you take away from that experience?
"I learned that humility can take you a long way — especially [when you're] just starting out. If you appreciate everyone around you, everything is easier. I would also say that I learned that being confident is okay. When you commit to something that you love wholeheartedly, only good things will happen. I may not have all the answers yet, but leading my first film will always be with me. It gives me the confidence to know that I can step into my next gig and be just fine."

What memorable bumps in the road have you encountered on your way to success?
"It honestly feels like I’ve had so many bumps in the road, but I would say losing my parents is my most memorable. The pressure of dealing with trying to make it in Hollywood and also grieving properly was a struggle. It’s not something you ever get over, I think, but it’s not impossible to keep going. I had a dream of being a successful working actress, and I’m on my way."
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Sacrifices aren't necessarily a bad thing. You just have to learn to adjust.

Has there ever been a time when you wanted to give up?
"So many times. When I was in college, I was homeless, living out of my car. Acting was still a dream during that time, but it was one I never gave up on. What kept me going was the thought that this wasn’t how my life had to be. I had a dream of acting since I was a kid, and when I was sleeping in the backseat of my car, I never stopped thinking about it. Whenever I feel like it’s getting to be too much, I ask myself what made me fall in love with acting in the first place. That always helps me."

What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make in order to focus on your career?
"Since booking my big first gig this past year, I dropped head-first into really focusing on my career. It’s only me that I have to worry about, so I go wherever my work takes me. I definitely think I will have to make more sacrifices in the future. As I continue to grow as an artist, it’s inevitable. And to me, sacrifices aren't necessarily a bad thing. You just have to learn to adjust."

Have you reached a point where you feel like you’ve “made it,” or do you think it’s yet to come?
"I have so much more to give and [I know there's] so much more that hasn’t happened. I think having a platform and using it to promote positivity and [an active lifestyle] might resemble 'making it,' but 'making it' looks different to each and every person. For me, 'making it' would be for the entire world to know that I’m here to create and promote change for others who need it, whether that’s in my work, socially, or politically."
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Design by Louisa Cannell.
Nikki Black, Stand-Up Comedian, Los Angeles

After starting comedy in college at the age of 19, Nikki chased her passions all the way to L.A., where she's currently a rising stand-up star. She uses the stage as an opportunity to break down barriers, offering personal anecdotes about breast cancer and mental health. She has several upcoming stand-up shows as well as a podcast on the way — and additionally works in social media.

You've done a few routines where you talk about having cancer. I'm sure it impacted everything in your life. How did it impact your stand-up comedy?
"When I got cancer, I leaned further into stand-up than I had before. I think it gave me a platform to talk about all these new experiences that I was having. We all have this idea about what it's like to go through cancer based off the media we've been fed, but once I started going through it, I realized how much of it is hilariously inaccurate. Stand-up gave me a way to communicate these things to people in a way that didn't feel like I was emotionally weighing them down. Being able to tell the story of me going through cancer — instead of letting people project stereotypes on me — was very powerful for me."

What inspired your big move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles?
"I had a blood clot when they removed the port I had for receiving chemotherapy treatment. It made my heart stop when I was in the hospital, and I actually died on the table for a minute. I moved to Los Angeles three months after that because I felt like I needed a change in my life. I was running towards something, but I was also running away from a lot of things. Was it the right move? I don't know. I don't want to imply that staying a little longer would have been the 'wrong move.' It was just the move I made."

Once you got to Los Angeles, what was it like to adapt to a new comedy community and a new life?
"In Philly, everything is super close and you can do a bunch of shows in a night and not have to travel very far. Los Angeles is a city that demands you get to know it by actually getting out of the house and driving somewhere. That was definitely an adjustment.

"When I moved out here, I was very much a broken person — I still am in a lot of ways. But so is everybody else in Los Angeles, and that's why I love it. The community is so big here. There are so many people — women especially — willing to support one another. I was lucky in that I knew some people who were also living out here, so it was good to have that safety net. But women are the driving force behind what made Los Angeles feel like home to me. No matter how bad things get, there is always somebody who understands."
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At the end of the day, it's what I love. If I take that away, then what am I doing?

Has there ever been a time when you almost gave up? What stopped you?
"I think every stand-up comedian gets to that point. And it can be as simple as a show not going well or too much going on in your life. For me, I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last year. And I lost my job at the same time. For a while, I was spiraling. It's hard to deal with mental health issues and work on your craft at the same time. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But at the end of the day, it's what I love. If I take that away, then what am I doing?"

Have you reached a point where you feel like you’ve “made it,” or do you think it’s yet to come?
"I think the best is yet to come. I think 'making it' is having a regular paycheck based on your performance. Right now, I'm doing social media. A lot of comedians have day jobs. To me, 'making it' is being able to get rid of that day job in a way that's comfortable where I’m not struggling paycheck to paycheck."
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Design by Louisa Cannell.
Taylor Simone, Singer/Songwriter, “Jazze Belle,” New York City

Following years of doing spoken word and songwriting, Taylor has found a solid home as one half of the R&B musical group Jazze Belle. Her sound is authentic and soulful, and she speaks unapologetically about her Blackness. To her, poetic honesty in music is her safe space — and her climb to get to the top stops at nothing.

As a musician living in New York, what kinds of sacrifices have you had to make in order to focus on your career?
"Honestly, just being in New York and trying to make it all happen is difficult. I expect things to go wrong now. You plan for the best knowing that something's going to go wrong. I think the biggest thing in my life is making sure I balance what I want to do with what I need to do, like making sure all my efforts are put towards my passions while also making sure everything's paid for. I've worked a lot of jobs — jobs I may or may not have liked, but jobs that nonetheless gave me time to practice or rehearse. So that's always been a struggle: balancing jobs and my music."

What memorable bumps in the road have you encountered on your way to success?
"We were close to finishing our EP [for Jazze Belle], and maybe two weeks before we were going to send it out, we lost our computer with everything on it. We had to start all over again. The [positive outcome] was that it created the project that we have out now. Everything happens for a reason: I definitely think it's a better project, but it was a lot of hustle. We've been hustling for real."
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The only thing that keeps me going is my love to create music.

Has there ever been a time when you wanted to give up?
"I feel like, for any artist out here [in New York City] trying to make their dreams a way of their primary income, we've all been at that place. When I was 22 and 23, giving up didn't feel so dire. But [as I’ve gotten older], it's easy to feel like I need to make that decision quickly; there's a lot of other societal pressures on what you should be doing or how much money you should be making."

What stops you?
"The only thing that keeps me going is my love to create music. I really believe that I'm on Earth to do that. I think I do other things pretty well, but I write music well. I think that's how I'm supposed to be of service to the world. That's what keeps me on the path."

Have you reached a point where you feel like you've “made it,” or do you feel like that's yet to come?
"I don't think that I've made it. But I think what 'made it' is to me has shifted. I'm constantly trying to ask myself that question: What does success mean to you? I think hustling as much as I have has taught me a great work ethic, but sometimes I've lost the impulse. It's about the music and the love. What I'm really focused on right now is making sure that the musical process is not an unbearably stressful experience. It's supposed to be fun. I'm supposed to have a good time. If I can continue to do that, then that's what success is to me."

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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